The New York Times does a wonderful feature in its Sunday travel section called 36 Hours in … It picks a city around the globe and give readers places to go at appropriate times of the day. I did the same for Rome. I don’t include the major attractions such as the Colosseum and Vatican. You know those. I wrote about the places I would go as a Rome resident of 8 1/2 years. Hope it gives you some ideas next time you come to town, especially for the second time.
Rebetiko is Greek jazz that dates back to the Ottoman Empire. After being censored during World War II, it had a huge revival in the second half of the 20th century and is reaching new popularity now. While on the Greek isle of Skiathos, I went to one of the top rebetiko spots in Greece. Ouzeri Anatoli is where legendary Georgos Xintaris has played rebetiko since 1982. With great food and an even better view overlooking the Aegean Sea, it was one of the highlights of my many trips to Greece.
Six years ago on the Greek island of Skiathos, Marina and I found a dying kitten in a rain gutter. We took it to the Skiathos Cat Welfare Association which saved his life and made our vacation. We named him Bolt, hoping he’d run like Usain one day. We visited three years ago and, all grown, Bolt not only didn’t recognize us, he wouldn’t let us pet him. We returned last week and he was just as skittish. But he’s happy and, except for a bum leg, healthy. Here’s an update on the little orange kitten.
Michigan State Q&A: Lessons from an ink-stained wretch and world-weary travel writer to bright J students
Every summer a group of Michigan State journalism students comes to Rome and I talk to them about my life as a sportswriter in the U.S. and my transformation to a travel writer in Rome. This year they asked some remarkably insightful questions. Here are some of them and how I answered them.
Via Francigena: Ancient pilgrimage from France to Rome an enlightening journey for this American wanderer
Kevin McAllister doesn’t just go places. He walks there. And he experiences every inch of culture along the way. The 66-year-old retired software salesman just finished walking 900 miles over 70 days, the vast majority over the historic Via Francigena pilgrimmage route that stretches from Canterbury, England, to Southern Italy. I met him during my stay in Cinque Terre last month and told him to look me up when he finished his pilgrimage in Rome. He did. We sat for drinks and he told me his story.
Normally, the phrase Italy’s government collapses wouldn’t be cause for alarm here in Italy. After all, we’ve gone through 14 prime ministers and 19 governments in the last 30 years. But now what’s waiting in the wings, what is favored to win the snap Sept. 25 elections, is a right-wing coalition led by the neo-fascist Brothers of Italy.
Monti: Rome’s historical and hippest neighborhood (and once my favorite) is a slow victim of gentrification
Monti has been a prominent Roman neighborhood since Ancient Rome but has changed its face over the centuries. Once Rome’s most teeming ghetto, it became a place to be for the rich in the Middle Ages and later the hippest place in Rome and now has gentrified into just another touristy neighborhood. It was my goal to live there. Not anymore.
Overtourism in Italy: Some hot spots are cutting back but pretty and crowded Cinque Terre isn’t one of them
Cinque Terre is a UNESCO Heritage Site consisting of five pastel-colored villages on the Ligurian Sea. It gets 2.5 million visitors a year and when we visited over the weekend it felt like they were all there with us. The village of Vernazza was packed. As Italy recovers from Covid, tourism is back in full and some places are laying down limitations. Cinque Terre is not.
Elba: Napoleon Bonaparte’s island of exile still an Italian beach paradise — but you’d better bring your car
Elba sits an hour’s ferry ride off the coast of Tuscany and for half a century has been one of the most popular summer destinations for Italians and Europeans alike. But you’d better bring a car. Marina and I were two of the few who didn’t and learned the hard way that island transportation isn’t reliable. Still, it was worth it to have a beautiful hotel with a pool in the countryside and we still made it to two relaxing beaches. We did not, however, beat the crowds. Elba is filling up fast.
Every country has a food culture and at the top of Malta’s food chain is rabbit. It’s tradition to eat it on Sundays and the country even has 14 restaurants specializing in rabbit and two cities specializing in rabbit restaurants. During my five-day trip to Malta two weeks ago, I went to one of them. Yes, rabbits are cute. But they’re also tasty. While 550,000 rabbits are killed in Malta every year, agencies and government ministries are out to help the rabbits’ benefits as much as possible. My last of a three-part blog on Malta.
Malta movies: “Europe’s Hollywood” in spotlight with blockbusters from “Game of Thrones” to “Jurassic Park”
Malta has been the site of 150 films over the years, including 20 since the pandemic began two years ago. The island nation south of Sicily is versatile enough to look like everything from Israel during the Middle Ages to medieval France to modern Rome. I took an all-day tour of many of the sites and the Malta Film Studios where they’ve shot countless water scenes.
Malta: Speck of sand and ancient land in Mediterranean Sea thriving through “concrete” growing pains
I had a hard time convincing Italians that Malta is a worthy destination. Even my girlfriend, Marina, was hesitant. I took the leap anyway last week and while I did see their criticisms of overgrowth and “a concrete jungle,” I saw so much else to offer. Beautiful sea with built-in individual stone pools. Best weather of my life. Fascinating history. Gorgeous architecture. The kind Maltese don’t like what much of it has become but I’ll be back. I’m developing a taste for rabbit.